Fashion illustrations for printed patterns // Ginger Jeans // Closet Case Files
Creative Entrepeneurship


If you’re a design/colour/branding type A maniac, designing the packaging for a forever product that people will buy, use, and maybe pass down over the years is the kind of thing that will keep you up at night, haunt your dreams and occupy most of your waking hours. When I decided I was going to release paper patterns, it’s basically all I thought about for months, and I experimented with a lot of different approaches before I settled on one that felt true (and that I could afford).

The entire process was a huge learning experience. I’ve never had to deal with a manufactured product before, and it’s incredibly complicated. Here’s the hard truth: printing is very expensive. It is especially expensive when you’re dealing with small runs, and you live in Canada where there are simply less print shops, and thus less competition. Most printers will only do huge corporate orders; it can very challenging to find people willing to do a run of 1000 copies, even when 1000 copies seems like an astronomical number. That number is 1000 for a reason; McCalls actually does all the tissue printing in North America (they may actually be the only printer in the world capable of printing on such large sheets on tissue) and while their pricing is surprisingly affordable, their minimum order is 1000 copies per design. While McCalls will also print your envelopes and instructions, I wanted something more custom and ended up working with a print broker in Canada, which was a lifesaver. Brokers will negotiate with big commercial printers for you, and can generally get much better pricing than anything you can find on your own.

Closet Case Files - Printed patterns

My preliminary idea was to create a sturdy cardstock folder with a Moleskin-like yellow elastic that held everything together. I made mockups and technical drawings and even found pricing on custom elastic. But here’s another hard truth about printing; anything with a custom shape requires a custom die cut, which is basically a mold they use to cut your shape out of paper; the die cut itself can run one up to $1000 to get made. In addition, any design with fold lines or 3-dimensionality (such as a box shape) requires special machines to assemble, and that process is extremely expensive. While the price drops exponentially the larger the quantity, I was essentially priced out of doing anything really fancy because of my small runs. That heartbreak lingered with me for a long time. The hardest truth: profit margins are key to business success. If you’re not making enough of a profit of your product (especially when you’re selling wholesale and retail) your business is not going to survive.

It was back to the drawing board. My print broker and I had a lot of difficult conversations about what was actually possible before we settled on doing an offset print on a standard 9″x6″ envelope. We splurged on lovely magazine quality stapled booklets and upgraded to white tissue for the patterns themselves. I also had help designing the envelope and booklet from the lovely and amazing Sara Berkes. After sussing out the myriad ways that patterns are being packaged these days, I’m quite happy with the clean, simple, packaging we ended up with.

Design paper pattern packaging // Closet Case Files

The star of course, are the fashion illustrations.  From the beginning I knew I wanted to go with something painterly and hand drawn. Photos can look dated over time, and I wasn’t super comfortable with being so front and center on the packaging since I’m also the model. Technical flats can look good but since a lot of companies have gone that route I wanted to do something a little different. After a lot of googling, I eventually found a fashion illustrator I loved;  she had the exact style I imagined in my head. Unfortunately for me, she was also highly sought after and well out of my budget.

Fashion illustrations inspiration // Closet Case Files

Sarah Hankinson illustrations

Instead, I hunted around on sites like Behance and Freelanced to find up and coming illustrators. This was undoubtedly the most frustrating and difficult part of the process. You would think that there would be hundreds, thousands, of talented fashion illustrators out there. But apparently there isn’t, at least, not that Google or I could see (heads up talented illustrators; your portfolios are really hard to find). Eventually I did stumble on a few with promising portfolios. We emailed back and forth about what I was looking for, and I sent them inspiration images. All three offered to do illustration tests for me to see if we could agree on a style. This is what came back.

Fashion illustrations studies // Closet Case Files Fashion illustrations studies // Closet Case Files

Fashion illustrations studies // Closet Case Files

None of these are bad, but none were quite right, either. I was beginning to give up hope.

*Cue music that plays in romantic comedies when the heroine serendipitously meets love interest in overly convenient coincidence*

After the third illustration came in, I was catching up with my beloved Sallie Oh over the phone; she’s a great shoulder to cry on when you’re feeling defeated. When I explained the Odyssey-like illustrator quest I was on, she took a look at my inspiration images, what had been delivered and said simply, “I can do that. I’ll send you something tomorrow”.

I almost dropped the phone. I also didn’t quite believe her. There was no way after the months of back and forth and google searching that the perfect person to illustrate the pattern covers I had been losing sleep over was a friend. From the sewing community. Who I love. THERE IS NO WAY. So when her email arrived the next day I was positively terrified to open the attachment. Until I saw the beautiful hand drawn and water-coloured illustration, and starting cry laughing and hoot-hollering and air punching, because it was perfect. It was exactly what I wanted, and it was drawn by one of my favourite humans on the planet. Who just happens to be someone I met from the field I’ve dedicated my life to. Thank you universe. Your sense of humour is on point.

Fashion illustrations for printed patterns // Carolyn Pajamas // Closet Case Files

Carolyn came first, and then we did Nettie, Ginger and Clare over the rest of the summer and fall. Every time the files arrived in my inbox, I would be filled with such immense gratitude and happiness I’d need to do a little spazzy dance.

Fashion illustrations for printed patterns // Nettie Dress & Bodysuit // Closet Case Files

Even though I don’t have the fancy die-cut envelopes I had initially dreamed of, I feel like each one of these patterns has a little bit of Sallie’s artfulness and soul, and the entire thing is so wrapped up in my love for sewing and my love for this immensely gifted and generous community that the spazzy dance is basically happening non-stop. Even as I’m stuffing thousands of these babies to get them in your hands. Did I mention that my graphic designer Sara is a sewing friend too? Full circle.

So that’s the story of Closet Case packaging; hopefully there are people out there who found this helpful if they’re considering the move to print themselves. Do you like the illustrations? Do you have any stories of sewing kismet I should know about it? What does your spazzy dance of joy look like?

ps. Stay tuned for the new pattern announcement and paper pattern launch on Monday!

  • amazing amazing amazing! I’m so happy that it turned out THIS way for you 😀

  • Those illustrations are what caught my eye first in your previous post… They are just perfect! 😀 Félicitations for your new paper patterns 😀

  • Spazzy dance of joy right here:

    I love this story! Thank you for sharing the ups and downs of the process with us.

    • That is absolutely what my spazzy dance of joy looks like. HOW IDD YOU KNOW!?!?

  • Seriously? SERIOUSLY! What sweet serendipity! Sallie’s artwork is so just right!

    I can’t even update my blog header and landing page without feeling all-consumed, so I totally feel your angst over branding and forever print products. Your end product is completely brilliant!

    • Hahah, the curse of type A creatives! Thank you Sue!

  • Debi_myhappysewingplace

    This journey brought tears to my eyes as it exactly sums up how awesome the sewing community is!!! I’m so happy for you too 🙂

  • Awww, this is a great story! The samples you showed, it wasn’t perfect compared top Sallie’s. Sallie is just an amazing talented person! I wish I had her skills! I want to buy all of your patterns not only because I prefer them, but they’re works of art and I love the sewing kismet. I love that I get to have your patterns and Sallie’s artwork at the same time.

    • Thank you sweetheart! I might set up some kind of thing for people to get digital prints of the artwork if they’d like them…..

  • Nadja Schäfer

    Congratulations on these absolutes stunning illustrations. They fit your general style and aesthetics so perfectly! You and Sallie are both incredibly talented.

  • Tyan Walker

    This is the best story of sewing/friendship/art/love/full-circle-awesomeness I have heard EVER. Love it. Gorgeous packaging, and the illustrations are spot on. Sallie, you have amazing skills.

    • Thanks Tyan! I reallys houldn’t have been surprised; this kind of thing just seems to happen in our community. Full circles all over.

  • The drawings are gorgeous!

    • Thanks Entish! Do’t know what I would have done without my Sallie.

  • Stunning. Sallie is so talented. how we didn’t know about that hidden gem of illustration.

  • Ahhh, the packaging looks amazing! I feel like clean & pretty can be a hard combo to get right, but you nailed it! Sallie’s illustrations themselves look great, and I love the little ink splotches around them that really give them that painterly feel. You and Sallie done GOOOOD, girl!

    Also, so glad to see that your super awesome in-depth instructions will make it into the booklets! Your patterns have the absolute best instructions of any I’ve made.

    • That’s so nice to hear Nicole! I thnk the Clare instructions are my finest work yet. And thanks for the call out on clean & pretty; I fricking agonized to get there, happy you can see it 😉

  • What a cool story! I love Sallie’s illustrations, they greatly fit your style and aethetic. If you hadn’t already, I’d suggest you name a pattern after her 😉

  • Caroline Flynn

    Thank you for this interesting and interesting post. I really enjoyed the story. Congratulations on your printed patterns, they look wonderful!

    • Thank you Caroline!

      • Caroline Flynn

        Interesting and inspiring, derp. I’ve been working on my Carolyn pjs today, yay

  • Wow, these are gorgeous! You two ought to offer prints of the artwork for sale too–they are beautiful enough to hang on the wall, and I’ll probably continue to buy digital patterns. Or maybe include digital artwork with the pdf pattern so we can print at home and pin these beauties on the wall.
    Way to go you two!!

    • Not a bad idea! I’ll look into it…. I was initially thinking of doing something with the original watercolours but I’m too atttched. I want to frame them in my studio!

  • Kat

    A wonderful story. The design is so beautiful and so true to you. I can’t wait to see the new pattern you’ve cooked up for us!

    • I hope you guys like it! It was a REAL labour of love, emphasis on LABOUR.

  • Colette

    Fantastic packaging Heather-Lou! How perfect are Sallie’s illustrations and it’s so gorgeous that you both collaborated together! Well done and congratulations.

  • Nina Rose

    I am so excited! I have a denim kit…..but have been putting off dealing with the pdf pattern…I appreciate so much, so much, that you have made the effort to produce paper patterns, Thank You! I will do my part to make sure that this is a successful venture so that we can all continue to enjoy the fruits of your creativity…..the illustrations and and the story behind them brought tears to my eyes (ok, that might just be NOT so unusual for my perimenopausal self…..but still). Yeah you! I will tell our local store, Hart’s Fabric that they MUST carry your patterns!

    • Karen

      is this hart’s in santa cruz? it’d be weird if it were… i’m in virginia now but i used to go there. they’re awesome and super helpful and have my vote for the patterns too. if it’s not the same hart’s then you still have a second vote hah

      • Nina Rose

        Yes, it is that very Hart’s Fabric! I’ve been shopping there since I moved here to Santa Cruz in 1981…..we are lucky to have such a great vibrant fabric store. I hope you have a great store wherever you are in Virginia.

    • Aww, what a sweet comment! Bless you Nina! And your perimenopause!

  • Carolyn Norman

    What a great story and I’m so happy for you. Now put the paper patterns up so I can finally buy a copy of the Carolyn pajamas!

    • YAY! I think you’ll like them, and lord knows you have enough silk to make a really boss pair.

  • truebias

    these look so great! Sallie is one talented lady. Congrats on a great product and all of the hard work. I know it’s in my future and I am scared. Can’t wait for Monday.

  • What a great story! I absolutely love the illustrations – Sallie is so talented! Such a fun collaboration. Congratulations!

  • sallieforrer

    I think I’ve read this post at least 50 times since it went up. Love you girl. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I’m so proud of you and all you’ve accomplished. I know how much thought and love and careful deliberation, not to mention worry and angst and all the sleepless nights, that went into taking this next big step, and I have to say, you’ve totally nailed it. I’m so. freaking. honored. to get to be a part of your business and to offer you whatever services and resources I have. Plus, making those illustrations was SUPER fun for me! Got to dust off the ol’ watercolors and pencils and flex my poor atrophying drawing muscles! Haha! Love love love you. And Thank You.

    And a big THANK YOU to everyone who said nice words about the illustrations! I’m really pleased that people like them! This community is just the best and I’m so grateful to have found it and to be a part of it. I hope y’all know what a huge impact you’ve had on my life! Thanks for being the lovely women (and men) that you are.

  • Hélène

    Is Sallie a profesionnial illustrator? Her drawings are so remarkable. Plus, this girl is a seasoned sewist and she looks stunning and cool. In French, we say: “Qui se ressemble s’assemble”, which means “Birds of a feather flock together”. This is true of you and Sallie!

    • No but she should be! Hoping she starts doing more, she’s so good.

  • karen

    I prefer a paper pattern and have been putting off my Ginger purchase even though I have fabric and notions waiting!!
    Will you be taking advance orders, I’d hate to miss out

    • I have LOTS so you shouldn’t be too concerned, haha

  • Sallie is a rockstar! The illustrations are fabulous. I enjoyed reading about your process!

  • THIS IS TOTALLY AN EXPERIENCE I’VE HAD!!!! I can so relate. The people you are looking for can be found through the things you love. Thank you for sharing!

  • Also, I just can’t get over how beautiful it all looks, and how like YOU it looks. Great job! Or I should say, great collaboration!

  • How lovely! Big congrats on the paper patterns. I can’t wait to see them at the Workroom.
    P.s. My sister is moving to Montreal so we should be visiting more often 😉

  • This is so lovely!! I am so happy that you got everything worked out and I think the envelopes are gorgeous. And those instruction booklets look amazing! I love your pdfs, but I just might have to grab a couple of these too! Sometimes simple is best! And wow Sallie is one talented lady!
    PS: I’m chomping at the bit for Clare!

  • WoW!! Bravo! I’m so excited for you, for both of you. Sallie’s artwork is perfect and gorgeous! easily the most beautiful option. I’m so thrilled it has worked out so wonderfully for you; you’ve put so much hard work into your fabulous patterns and all accolades coming to you are truly well deserved. I can’t wait to see the new pattern either!

  • Wow wow wow!!!! I completely missed this post till now since I’ve been sewing like a mad woman at a retreat all weekend but absolutely NEEDED to tell you how truly amazing these look and how excited I am for you in this next phase of your business journey. Massive congrats to you Heather and I can’t WAIT to see your release next week! xx

  • mokosha

    you two are match made in heaven, girls! love the ilustrations! and love the new pattern, especially that side zipper version of it